The NFL’s ongoing success in the UK depends upon its TV coverage

By Brett Walker

The 2023 season marks ten years since Channel 4 regained the rights to show NFL coverage.

This is significant, as the broadcaster shined a light on the NFL far more than previous terrestrial rights holders had done in the UK. The previous incumbent, the BBC, had only shown highlights of the playoffs in a late-night BBC2 slot ahead of broadcasting the Super Bowl live to not much fanfare.

Channel 4, meanwhile, utilised its status as the rights holder to broadcast a weekly magazine and highlights show every Monday hosted by Vernon Kay and Mike Carlson ahead of that week’s Monday Night Football game. In addition, the channel also broadcast that season’s London Series games live. 

Ahead of broadcasting the NFL’s showpiece occasion – the Super Bowl – Channel 4 also promoted the game with advertising slots in prime-time too, thus making the point that the game was like Ron Burgundy; it was kind of a big deal.

The move to the BBC

The viewing figures Channel 4’s approach yielded then informed the coverage the BBC gave to the NFL when it regained the rights in 2015. NFL This Week and The NFL Show, both hosted either by Mark Chapman or Nate Coombs with Osi Umenyiora and Jason Bell in the analyst roles, were successful precisely because they continued to broadcast highlights of the NFL on a weekly basis.

For me, the BBC’s coverage represented a high point; much like Vernon Kay, it was obvious that Chapman and Coombs were long time fans of the sport. That, in turn, made for a better broadcast as viewers could tell that they had grown up watching Channel 4’s coverage of the NFL in the Eighties.

Furthermore, Osi and Jason’s analysis was fantastic – it genuinely enlightened the viewers, giving them an insight into the tactics being employed on both sides of the ball, the intricacies of play-calling, the specific on-field relationships and the like. 

What also stood out in those first couple of seasons were the in-studio interviews Chapman conducted with the likes of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith. It is a real shame that they did not continue.

Since then, we have seen Osi and Jason chat with the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars owner Shahid Khan and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. While there has certainly been a conviviality to the interviews, Mark Chapman or another journalist/host instead conducting interviews with the NFL’s leading lights would have given such interviews the sheen of journalistic rigour, which any chat with an owner or the commissioner of the league would benefit from. 

ITV takes over possession

Now, ITV has the rights again, and the host, Laura Woods, is clearly a fine broadcaster – her talkSPORT morning radio show and her work on the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups for ITV demonstrates this. However, she was weighed down by the antics of Osi and Jason last season. They seemed more interested in making as many bad jokes and trying to be as comical as possible the last two seasons rather than focusing on giving the in-depth analysis of games and insights to the viewers that we know they are both capable of from their BBC days with Chapman or Coombs.

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Contrast that with Channel 5’s coverage of the NFL, which has grown and developed to become the best NFL coverage on free-to-air television in the UK in my view. What sets Channel 5’s coverage apart is that the relationship between the channel and the NFL to bring the best possible product to people’s screens is on full view, particularly during the Monday Night Football broadcast. The show boasts Kirsten Watson, Greg Rosenthal and Maurice Jones-Drew as its regular hosts and analysts. This means Channel 5 has NFL Network presenters and analysts presenting a bespoke product for the channel from the NFL studios in Los Angeles.

Furthermore, they are building a relationship with the viewers here in the UK with elements like The Roll Call and The 3am Club while balancing being seen to ‘have fun’ with professionalism and insights. By cutting to ESPN’s MNF coverage, the channel is also giving viewers in the UK the full American broadcast experience too. This works fantastically, and is then complimented by the bespoke weekly NFL Endzone show presented by Cori Yarckin on Sunday mornings. 

To this point, it might be that a refresh of The NFL Show and ITV’s NFL coverage as a whole is needed then.

Perhaps a bespoke companion show made in America, as NFL Endzone is the answer.

Alternatively, rather than replacing the host – Craig Doyle has now replaced Laura Woods – a refresh of The NFL Show’s analyst line-up really would help. Breaking up the Osi and J-Bell partnership, and their focus on the banter and hot-takes, and bringing in a new analyst would refocus the show, getting it back to the high-level analysis and insights that set its BBC incarnation apart.


For all the criticism NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has received, league revenues are up under his stewardship, and a lot of that is down to the growth in the game internationally in countries like Germany and Mexico, as well as the UK. 

I would argue that a lot of the NFL’s resurgence in the UK in recent years has been down to visibility. Terrestrial broadcasters Channel 4, the BBC, ITV, and Channel 5 have all used the rights to showcase the NFL properly with weekly magazine and highlight shows. This has meant the product has gotten in front of more UK fans’ eyes as it’s on free-to-air TV rather than needing a subscription to Sky and its dedicated Sky Sports NFL channel.

You will notice that I have focused solely on free-to-air coverage in this article, as long-time fans and potential fans having ease of access to the product cannot be overstated in my view. 

Therefore, if the NFL wants to continue to grow its presence in overseas markets, it is vitally important that coverage continues to be prominently shown by free-to-air broadcasters in the UK. And, most of all, this coverage is of the highest quality.

While the quality of The NFL Show has lowered in recent years, there is no reason why the situation can’t be salvaged, particularly given the active editorial role the NFL seeks to have in UK coverage.

Feature Image Credit: NFL UK

Brett Walker

NFL Analyst

Having discovered the NFL in the late 90s, Brett was a Patriots fan before he’d even heard of Belichick and Brady. Based in Greater Manchester, he also writes about MLB and the NBA. Follow Brett on Twitter @BrettChatsSports.